Climate activist Greta Thunberg has canceled an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival after accusing one of the festival’s main sponsors of greenwashing.
Thunberg announced her decision to pull out of the event in a statement shared by the festival on Friday, outlining her belief that as a climate activist she cannot attend an event sponsored by investment management firm, Ballie Gifford, due to its connections with the fossil fuel industry.
She was set to speak at the 3,000 seat Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh on August 13 to discuss her appeal for climate action in an event titled: “Greta Thunberg: It’s Not Too Late to Change the World.”
“I am unfortunately unable to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival. As a climate activist I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invests heavily in the fossil fuel industry,” Thunberg said.
“Greenwashing efforts by the fossil fuel industry, including sponsorship of cultural events, allow them to keep the social license to continue operating. I cannot and do not want to be associated with events that accept this kind of sponsorship,” her statement continued.
Greenwashing is a practice where marketing and PR language is intentionally misleading and used to convince consumers that something is better for the planet than it really is. The term can also be used to describe corporations or businesses using philanthropy or association with environmental issues to distract from their ecologically harmful business activities.
The festival’s director, Nick Barley responded in a separate statement, saying that although he is “disappointed” that Thunberg will no longer be appearing he fully respected her decision.
“I share Greta’s view that in all areas of society the rate of progress is not enough,” Barley continued.
Barley went on to highlight the crucial role played by organizations such as Baillie Gifford in keeping an event such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival alive.
“The Book Festival exists to give a platform for debate and discussion around key issues affecting humanity today - including the climate emergency. As a charitable organisation, we would not be in a position to provide that platform without the long-term support of organisations such as Baillie Gifford,” Barley said.
He defended Baillie Gifford’s record on climate, pointing towards the company’s investment in “progressive climate positive companies,” adding that the festival has seen Baillie Gifford make “rapid progress” on climate issues during its 19-year partnership with the company.
In a separate statement, Baillie Gifford denied the claims made by Thunberg, saying: “We are not a significant fossil fuel investor.”
The company said that only 2% of its clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels, also pointing to its investment in clean energy solutions.
The festival, which is set to kick off in the Scottish capital on August 12, has pledged to offer a full refund to all those who had purchased tickets to see Thunberg.